Skip to main content
Select Source:




”Crisis” is a lay term in search of a scholarly meaning. Some scholars treat it synonymously with stress, panic, catastrophe, disaster, violence, or potential violence. Others, adhering to the medical connotation, regard it as a “turning point” between a fortunate and an unfortunate change in the state of an organism. In decision-making analysis, it is one kind of situation or event. The concept is used by historians, sociologists, political scientists, and psychologists.

Because of its varied meanings the term “crisis” has not been useful in building “systematic knowledge” about social phenomena. Terms that cover almost any situation are not helpful in analysis that emphasizes variables and the relations among variables. If many different kinds of situations are labeled crises, then the factor becomes a constant and cannot be related to variations in other aspects of social process.

Uses of the term are substantive and procedural. Substantive uses specify the content of a policy, problem, or situation. Procedural conceptions emphasize generic characteristics of situations, without regard to whether a particular case involves, for example, an international crisis, a political crisis, or an individual crisis.

Substantive definitions. Among substantive definitions the most elaborate is that of Kahn (1965), who enumerated 44 distinguishable steps in political–military escalation, from a minor provocation to full-scale nuclear holocaust. His conception is a helpful instrument of policy making because it suggests that military and political decision makers have available many stages through which to increase pressure on an adversary, without, however, necessarily converting a hastened escalation into full-scale nuclear war. (This presumes that both adversaries have similar perceptions of the scale.) The theoretical potential of this definition is, however, limited because it is confined to nuclear crises and, at least at present, calls for far more data than are likely to be found.

Procedural definitions. Procedural definitions identify elements that occur in any crisis. These uses have been reviewed in two papers. Wiener and Kahn (1962) enumerated 12 generic dimensions : (1) Crisis is often a turning point in an unfolding sequence of events and actions. (2) Crisis is a situation in which the requirement for action is high among participants. (3) Crisis threatens the goals and objectives of those involved. (4) Crisis is followed by an important outcome whose consequences shape the future of the participants. (5) Crisis consists of a convergence of events that results in a new set of circumstances. (6) Crisis produces uncertainties in assessing a situation and in formulating alternatives for dealing with it. (7) Crisis reduces control over events and their effects. (8) Crisis heightens urgency, which often produces stress and anxiety among participants. (9) Crisis is a circumstance in which information available to participants is unusually inadequate. (10) Crisis increases time pressures for those involved. (11) Crisis is marked by changes in the relations among participants. (12) Crisis raises tensions among participants, especially in political crises involving nations.

Miller and Iscoe (1963) reviewed traits of crises as used in psychological and sociological studies: (1) A crisis situation is acute rather than chronic, although its length is usually unspecified. (2) Crisis results in behavior that is frequently “pathological,” such as inefficiency or scapegoating. (3) Crisis threatens the goals of persons involved. (4) Crisis is relative; what is a crisis for one party or participant may not be for another. (5) Crisis causes tension in the organism, including physical tension and anxiety.

Studies by Wiener and Kahn and by Miller and Iscoe identified some of the same traits of crisis. Both studies list threat to goals and pathological effects, such as frustration and anxiety. Both adhere to a bias that appears in scholarly writings on crisis, as well as in the more conventional conception of crisis taken by participants and laymen, namely, that crisis is something to be avoided.

Several political analysts have experimented with different definitions in their empirical research. Robert North and his associates (including Richard Brody, Ole Holsti, and Dina Zinnes) have engaged in extensive studies of the crisis resulting in World War i and of more recent Sino–Soviet and Soviet–American crises, including the Cuban crisis of 1962. North and his colleagues adhere to the original Greek meaning, which persists to this day in the medical conception of the term (North et al. 1963, p. 4). This definition identifies crisis as a “turning point” that distinguishes the outcome of an event favorably or unfavorably, between life or death, violence or nonviolence, and resolution or protracted conflict. The difficulty with this conception is the obverse of that with Kahn’s definition. Whereas Kahn’s refined 44 stages are too numerous for theory building, the conception of crisis as a turning point is too restricted. An event is either a crisis or it is not; it is either a turning point or it is not; it is either a favorable outcome or an unfavorable outcome. Such categories are too gross.

These difficulties reveal a familiar dilemma that occurs in the development of new concepts. Definitions are either extraordinarily precise and specific, and hence not widely applicable to a variety of situations, organizations, and subjects; or they are so unrestricted in meaning that, in this case, it is difficult to distinguish crisis from noncrisis.

Crisis as a decision situation. Robinson (1962) set forth a threefold conception of crisis founded on a number of case studies of political decisions. This provisional characterization of crisis as a decision situation or as an occasion for decision (Barnard 1938; Snyder et al. 1962) included: (1) identification of the origin of the event—whether external or internal for the decision makers; (2) the decision time available for response—whether short, intermediate, or long; and (3) the relative importance of the values at stake to the participants—whether high or low. The origin of the situation was selected because of apparent differences between such crises as the Korean invasion of 1950, which surprised American foreign policy makers, and the Bay of Pigs crisis of 1961, which was precipitated by the United States. It was recognized that a crisis for one party may not be a crisis for another and that the existence of crisis may depend upon whether the decision unit precipitated the crisis or was confronted by it.

Decision time was regarded as important because of apparent consequences for the content of decisions. For example, Snyder and Paige (1958) reported that the number of alternatives available to the United States in the Korean decision were few and that they were quickly reduced to one in an effort to meet the action that the situation seemed to demand. In contrast, the Marshall Plan, developed during 15 weeks in 1947 in response to rapidly deteriorating economic and political stability in western Europe, offered a longer period to search for ways to deal with the problem (Jones 1955). Different from both the Korean invasion and the Marshall Plan was the settlement of the Japanese peace treaty, which was negotiated for several years and which allowed for extensive search for alternatives and for the exploration of the acceptability of alternative treaty formulations (Cohen 1957).

Relative importance of the values at stake was selected because crisis confronts decision makers with potential consequences of profound importance. In international affairs, the stakes may be violent or nonviolent, and between violent outcomes, they may involve “conventional” warfare or varying degrees of nuclear war. In crises other than international political ones, the stakes may be economic stability or instability, or varying degrees of either; organizational survival or demise; personal well-being or illness, inter alia.

Working initially with this typology of crisis situations, Charles Hermann (1963) reviewed organizational studies and theorized about consequences of crisis for organizational viability and decision making. For purposes of simulating foreign policy crises through internation simulation, Hermann (1965) categorized occasions for decisions as either anticipated or unanticipated, as involving short or long response time, and as involving low, medium, or high threat to the goals or objectives of the decision-making unit. Because of limitations in the simulation technique, he arbitrarily dichotomized anticipation and response time and trichotomized threat. Obviously, these three dimensions could be scaled in a more refined fashion, but their combination yielded 12 occasions for decision, which was expected to be a practicable number for analysis. Later, however, it was discovered that the simulation technique was not rich enough to deal with this many and that it was necessary to compromise by comparing most crisislike with least crisislike situations. [SeeSimulation, article onPolitical processes.]

Decision time . Consideration of this conception of crisis uncovered serious difficulties with the element response time. Robinson and Snyder (1965, pp. 440–442) emphasized the relative effect that time may have in different decisions. What is a short time for one decision may be a long time for another. The complexity of tasks confronting decision makers may require different amounts of time for identification, alternative search and selection, and, in different cases, implementation.

Decision time should not, therefore, be equated with clock time. There are two reasons for treating decision time differently. The first is that time has varying meanings and effects for different decision makers. Owing to variations in cognitive capacity or decision-making styles, some individuals need a short amount of time to work on a task for which others require a longer period. Decision makers differ in reflectiveness and decisiveness. The same decision may be taken by the reflective as by the decisive, but their personal procedures for deciding may not be the same. This problem can be overcome by relating personality variables to crisis variables and by treating the problem-solving or decision-making characteristics of individual decision makers elsewhere than in the conception of crisis.

Another difficulty with clock time, however, cannot be so arbitrarily disposed of or transferred conceptually. When calendar time is long, the decision may be so complicated that many tasks need to be performed in formulating a policy. A case that illustrates this is the set of British decisions concerning membership in the Common Market. Between 1960 and 1963, the British Foreign Office confronted a wide range of detailed tasks in an effort to negotiate entry into the European Economic Community (Young & Robinson 1962). Although the calendar for negotiation was nearly three years, it was crowded by demands and competition.

Decision time, therefore, should not be treated as an absolute. It varies with the intricacies of the decision and with’ the number of participants. [SeeLeadership, article onpolitical aspects.]

Related terms . Stress, conflict, tension, panic, catastrophe, and disaster are terms used more frequently by social scientists than crisis (C. Hermann 1965, p. 23). Like crisis, they too have many meanings, as Horvath (1959) showed with respect to stress. The most common usage of stress is probably that formulated by Lazarus and Baker (1956): thwarting some motive state or potentially thwarting, resulting in effective arousal. “Negative affect” is a frequent consequence of stress and constitutes a collective term for anxiety, fear, frustration, hostility, and tension. The difficulties with using stress synonymously with crisis center on the one-dimensional character of stress. As a threat to goals, it is only one of the major elements of crisis, as we have formulated the term.

Similar problems arise for a term like conflict. Conflict is an incompatibility between parties with respect to a goal (Boulding 1962, p. 5; North et al. 1960, p. 356). This is the same as threat to an objective, one of the three major aspects of crisis. [SeeConflict.]

Tension is another related concept. It, however, is a consequence of crisis and not a characteristic of crisis. It seems useful not to include in the conception of crisis the outcomes or effects of crisis.

Panic, catastrophe, and disaster, although subject to study in important social contexts, are less technical terms and ordinarily have not been the subject of investigation in organizational and political contexts.

Another limitation of related concepts is that, with only a few exceptions (for example, M. Hermann 1965), they have been investigated in problem-solving rather than decision-making research. Problem-solving experiments typically present subjects with situations for which alternatives are given and for which a determinate and “best” solution exists. Decision making differs from problem solving in that decisions are not confined to the selection among alternatives but rather extend to the search for alternatives and to the formulation and negotiation of alternatives. Moreover, these stages of the decision process probably consume a larger share of the time for making a decision than does selection among alternatives (Simon’s article in Easton 1966).

In addition, many decisions are not subject to determinate and “best” solutions. Routine, recurring decisions may be subject to linear programming or other computational techniques that result in near-determinate solutions. The kinds of situations that crisis ordinarily connotes, however, are not. Accordingly, the relevance of problem-solving experiments to crisis decision making is limited. Dahl (1961, p. 98) and Wood (1961, p. 17) caution against applying findings from nondecision-making experiments (such as problem solving) to political arenas in which policy decisions are taken.

In addition to these limitations on stress as a synonym for crisis, others apply to panic, catastrophe, and disaster. These concepts usually have been used to study mass behavior and other responses dissimilar to decision-making processes.

The state of theory . Although no theory of crisis has been developed as yet, theorizing about this phenomenon has already begun. Charles Hermann (1963; 1965) inductively reviewed hypotheses and placed them in a chain of independent, intervening, and dependent variables. In addition, Hermann (1965) advanced ad hoc predictions about some of the relations among crises and other variables. In some cases, however, the ad hoc predictions were arbitrary, and contradictory reasons could be given for opposite predictions. However innovative this effort was for testing hypotheses, it indicates the lack of a rich deductive theory or theories involving crisis.

Not only is crisis theory barren, but theories of decision making rarely accommodate explicit reference to crisis. For example, the theory of games, which deals with decision making under varying conditions, does not treat the concept. The critical aspects of decision with which game theory deals are conflicts between parties under conditions of uncertainty. Conflict is only one dimension of crisis (threat to values). It is important to note also that uncertainty is a variable. The amount of uncertainty in situations or occasions for decision varies, and all crisis decisions involve uncertainty. Because the theory of games treats uncertainty as a parameter, not as a variable, it is difficult to draw probable hypotheses that will apply to both game theory and crisis.

Theories of psychotherapy, including those of Erikson (1959, pp. 50–100) and Dabrowski (1964), regard crisis as inevitable in the development of the identity of individuals. The relevance of this for a theory of crisis is not immediately apparent, except for its suggestion of “positive” effects of crisis in the development and evolution of personality. Likewise, in theorizing about negotiation, as in labor–management bargaining, crisis has been identified as an inevitable and positive occurrence that precedes resolution or settlement (Douglas 1962).

Most studies, however, emphasize the “negative,” pathological aspects of crisis. Communication theories concerned with the processing of information, with the possibilities of overloading networks of messages, and with selective perception and distortion of content bear on crisis (Deutsch 1963; Meier 1963; Pool & Kessler 1965). With respect to one dimension of crisis, that of anticipation or un-anticipation, the processing of information in an organization may determine whether warnings about impending events reach top level decision makers. The “level of crisis” is a category for analysis in the conceptual scheme of “the policy science orientation” where variations in the crisis level are associated with variations in the outcomes and effects of social processes (Lasswell & Kaplan 1950).

Crisis will become a useful concept when it plays a part in theoretical formulations. Just as a fact is regarded as without meaning apart from a theory, so a concept can hardly be productive if it does not relate to other variables in a theory.

James A. Robinson

[See alsoCrisisGovernment; Stress. Other relevant material may be found inDecision making; Decision theory.]


Barnard, Chester I. (1938) 1962 The Functions of the Executive. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Boulding, Kenneth E. 1962 Conflict and Defense: A General Theory. A publication of the Center for Research in Conflict Resolution at the University of Michigan. New York: Harper.

Cohen, Bernard C. 1957 The Political Process and Foreign Policy: The Making of the Japanese Peace Settlement. Princeton Univ. Press.

Dabrowski, Kazimierz 1964 Positive Disintegration. Boston: Little.

Dahl, Robert A. (1961) 1963 Who Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

Deutsch, Karl W. 1963 The Nerves of Government: Models of Political Communication and Control. New York: Free Press.

Douglas, Ann 1962 Industrial Peacemaking. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Easton, David 1953 The Political System: An Inquiry Into the State of Political Science. New York: Knopf.

Easton, David (editor) 1966 Varieties of Political Theory. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. → See the article by Herbert A. Simon.

Erikson, Erik H. 1959 Identity and the Life Cycle: Selected Papers. Psychological Issues 1, no. 1.

Festinger, Leon 1964 Conflict, Decision, and Dissonance. Stanford Studies in Psychology, No. 3. Stanford Univ. Press.

Festinger, Leon; Riecken, H. W.; and Schachter, Stanley 1956 When Prophecy Fails. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

Hermann, Charles F. 1963 Some Consequences of Crisis Which Limit the Viability of Organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly 8:61–82.

Hermann, Charles F. 1965 Crises in Foreign Policy Making: A Simulation of International Politics. Contract N123 (60530) 32779A. China Lake, Calif.: U.S. Naval Ordnance Test Station.

Hermann, Margaret G. 1965 Stress, Self-esteem, and Defensiveness in an Internation Simulation. Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern Univ.

Horvath, Fred E. 1959 Psychological Stress: A Review of Definitions and Experimental Research. General Systems: Yearbook of the Society for General Systems Research 4:203–230.

Jones, Joseph M. 1955 The Fifteen Weeks: February 21–June 5, 1947. New York: Viking.

Kahn, Herman 1965 On Escalation. New York: Praeger.

Kaplan, Abraham 1964 The Conduct of Inquiry: Methodology for Behavioral Science. San Francisco: Chandler.

Lasswell, Harold D.; and Kaplan, Abraham 1950 Power and Society: A Framework for Political Inquiry. Yale Law School Studies, Vol. 2. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1963.

Lazarus, Richard S.; and Baker, Robert W. 1956 Personality and Psychological Stress: A Theoretical and Methodological Framework. Psychological Newsletter 8:21–32.

Lindblom, Charles E. 1965 The Intelligence of Democracy: Decision Making Through Mutual Adjustment. New York: Free Press.

Luce, R. Duncan; and Raiffa, Howard 1957 Games and Decisions: Introduction and Critical Survey. New York: Wiley.

Meier, Richard L. 1963 Information Input Overload: Features of Growth in Communications-oriented Institutions. Libri 13:1–44.

Miller, Kent; and Iscoe, Ira 1963 The Concept of Crisis: Current Status and Mental Health Implications. Human Organization 22:195–201.

North, Robert C.; Koch, Howard E.; and Zinnes, Dina A. 1960 The Integrative Functions of Conflict. Journal of Conflict Resolution 4:355–374.

North, Robert C. et al. 1963 Content Analysis: A Handbook With Applications for the Study of International Crisis. Evanston, III.: Northwestern Univ. Press.

Pool, Ithiel de Sola; and Kessler, Allan 1965 The Kaiser, the Tsar, and the Computer: Information Processing in a Crisis. American Behavioral Scientist 8, no. 9:31–38.

Robinson, James A. 1962 The Concept of Crisis in Decision-making. National Institute of Social and Behavioral Science, Symposia Studies Series, No. 11. Washington: The Institute.

Robinson, James A.; and Snyder, Richard C. 1965 Decision-making in International Politics. Pages 435–463 in Herbert C. Kelman (editor), International Behavior: A Social-psychological Analysis. New York: Holt.

Simon, Herbert A. (1947–1956) 1957 Models of Man; Social and Rational: Mathematical Essays on Rational Human Behavior in a Social Setting. New York: Wiley.

Snyder, Richard C.; Bruck, H. W.; and Sapin, B. (editors) 1962 Foreign Policy Decision Making: An Approach to the Study of International Politics. New York: Free Press.

Snyder, Richard C.; and Paige, Glenn D. (1958) 1961 The United States’ Decision to Resist Aggression in Korea: The Application of an Analytical Scheme. Pages 193–208 in James N. Rosenau (editor), International Politics and Foreign Policy: A Reader in Research and Theory. New York: Free Press. → First published in Volume 3 of the Administrative Science Quarterly.

Wiener, A. J.; and Kahn, H. 1962 Crisis and Arms Control. Harmon-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Hudson Institute.

Wood, Robert C. (1961)1964 1400 Governments: The Political Economy of the New York Metropolitan Region. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Young, Roland; and Robinson, James A. 1962 Parliamentary Decision-making in Great Britain: The Case of the Common Market. Paper delivered at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, D.C. Unpublished manuscript.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Crisis." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . 16 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Crisis." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . (December 16, 2017).

"Crisis." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from



The term crisis comes from the Greek noun krisis (choice, decision, judgment), deriving from the Greek verb krinein (to decide). The word makes an ancient debut in Greek historical writing via the legal, medical, and rhetorical terminology as the turning point in a decision, illness, or argument. Its definitive reappearance with reference to historical events, periods, or processes dates from the late eighteenth century, its classic formulation from the second half of the nineteenth century, and its proliferation as a catchall term for a crucial or decisive stage or state of affairs from the last half of the twentieth century. The history of the notion of crisis veers between failed attempts at precise definition and its inflation and devaluation as a tool of analysis.

Focus and flexibility inhere in the concept of crisis and account for much of its appeal. Crises, to be regarded as such, must occur in the course of specific events, but they can be characterized in organic, mechanistic, or revolutionary terms as critical episodes in a life cycle, indices of structural dysfunction, or corollaries of revolution. In the ideological reckoning with the great upheavals of modern history since the revolutions of the late eighteenth century, historical crises have often been cast as liberating by the Left and as proof of human fallibility by the Right. The language of crisis can be charged with drama, plotted as narrative, objectified as analysis, and pinned to empirical data.

Modern Concepts of Crisis

Karl Marx and Jacob Burckhardt brought out alternative emphases in their benchmark reflections on crisis. Marx (Das Kapital ) developed a theory of economic crisis centered on the economics of overproduction, specifically on the chronic dis-equilibrium between production and consumption under capitalism; each crisis, he believed, would be more severe than the last until a "general crisis" occurred wherein the working class would rise against their exploiters. Burckhardt took politics and culture as a starting point for his pronouncements on crisis in one of his lectures on world history, first delivered in the 1860s. Historical crises typically begin with a "negative, accusing aspect," then peak in utopian visions before giving way to reactions and restorations; the permanent results are "astonishingly meagre in comparison with the great efforts and passions which rise to the surface during the crisis." The typology, based on the French Revolution and the European revolutions of 1848, is clear enough, but it dissolves in a rush of historical examples underwritten by the patrician conservative's anxieties over modernization and not a little Schadenfreude in praise of crisis (Burckhardt, pp. 289290).

More specializedif less demandingusage was widespread by the later nineteenth century and is still current, for example in political or diplomatic crisis, financial or commercial crisis, or crise de conscience. However, until as late as 1960, the fields of economics and economic history produced the only relatively systematic theories of crisis. Marx's views were developed, debated, and projected back in time for a crisis of European feudalism variously dated between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries. Non-Marxist versions concentrated on cyclical fluctuations in price data or on the "checks" of famine, disease, and war to surplus population in Malthusian demographic cycles of preindustrial society. The thesis of a general crisis of the seventeenth century (as the transition from feudalism to capitalism) was advanced in 1954 by the British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm (Aston, pp. 558) and became a debating point in a long-running controversy over the timing and extra-economic dimensions of what was alleged to be the formative crisis of the modern world.

By the 1960s, crisis had become a broad and expanding catchwordan alternative to the more potent idea of revolutionfor practically any challenge-and-response situation or scenario. The tumultuous events of midcentury, from World War II, the collapse of colonial empires, and the Cold War to the traumas of the 1960s, were cast as symptomatic of the crisis not only of Western civilization but of established orders everywhere.

Field-specific crisis literature depended on the discourse or discipline but shared a preoccupation with breakdown or breakthrough in an established system of behavior or belief. A neoorthodox Protestant theology of crisis, a psychology of identity crisis following Erik Erikson (19021994), and an epistemology of crisis in "paradigm shifts" during scientific revolutions as analyzed by Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996), had their own extensive literatures. The crises of the Italian Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and the seventeenth-century English aristocracy were major topics for historians of early modern Europe, and a U.S. textbook series on major crises in history, including the crisis of August 1914 and the Great Depression of 1929, appeared in 1962. The Cuban missile crisis of that year became the exemplary real-world case of international diplomatic crisis at a time when crisis management, based on game theory, had become a political science specialty recognized by U.S. government research contracts.

Contemporary Definition and Usage

Two comprehensive entries on crisis in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1968) and the first Dictionary of the History of Ideas (1968) cited, respectively, "unrestricted usage" and continuing "uncertainty." Any number of studies had accumulated on crises of moments, decades, even eras; on political, social, economic, mental, and moral crises; on minor, major, and mid-level crises. The most exacting definitions were abstract and redundant, as in the decision-planners' twelve "generic dimensions" of crisis (International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, v. 2, s.v. "crisis"). While suggestive connections were being made across fields, they came at the expense of clarity and coherence and sometimes recycled arguments that had already been discounted by experts in their own disciplines. Both articles placed hope in more precise future work.

In fact, the widespread interest in and development of crisis studies had already peaked by the early 1970s. Toward the end of the twentieth century, the language of crisis was worn out by overuse even as it was being eclipsed by the triumphalism of postCold War ideologies that prophesied, however credulously, the end of history and the containment of the upheavals and confrontations that had fueled it. The big crisis debates among historians mostly receded before the emphasis on long-term structural trends, the dismantling of so-called grand narratives, the deconstruction of the rhetoric of history, and the unfazed appreciation that conflict and confrontation were not the exception but the rule in history. The most concerted theoretical attention to crisis came from political scientists who continued to model schematic strategies for "crisis management," especially in international affairs. They salvaged analytical precision only by abstract model building and academic distinctions such as a sequence of phases of international crises from onset and escalation to de-escalation and impact.

The most conspicuous use of crisis terminology in the early twenty-first century is activist and political. Social movements, nongovernmental organizations, and government institutions, including the United Nations, have appropriated the term on occasion as a watchword to promote intervention in "crises" of genocide, women's rights, HIV-AIDS, environmental degradation, or economic globalization. A "crisis of liberal values" has become a target of both radical supporters of multi-cultural politics and self-styled traditionalists who feel called upon to defend their ideals of family, patriotism, and religion. These developments, together with the leveling effects of everyday usage, have furthered the depletion of the term as an all-purpose slogan or a banal cliché.

See also Continental Philosophy ; Cycles ; Feudalism, European ; Game Theory ; Marxism .


Aston, Trevor, ed. Crisis in Europe, 15601660. London: Routledge, 1965.

Brecher, Michael. Crisis in World Politics: Theory and Reality. New York and London: Pergamon, 1993.

Burckhardt, Jacob. Force and Freedom: Reflections on World History. Translated by James Hastings Nichols. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964.

Eisenstein, Zillah R. Feminism and Sexual Equality: Crisis in Liberal America. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984.

Erikson, Erik H. Identity, Youth, and Crisis. New York: Norton, 1968.

Fowler, Richard A., and H. Wayne House. Civilization in Crisis: A Christian Response to Homosexuality, Feminism, Euthanasia, and Abortion. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1988.

Koselleck, Reinhart. "Krise." In Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe: Historisches Lexikon zur Politisch-Sozialen Sprache in Deutschland, Vol. 3, edited by Otto Brunner and Werner Conze, 617650. Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1978.

Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Masur, Gerhart. "Crisis in History." In Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Vol. 1, edited by Philip P. Wiener, 589595. New York: Scribner, 1973.

Médecins Sans Frontières, eds. World in Crisis: The Politics of Survival at the End of the Twentieth Century. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Parker, Geoffrey. Europe in Crisis, 15981648. London: Fontana, 1979.

Starn, Randolph. "Historians and Crisis." Past & Present, no. 52 (August 1971): 322.

Randolph Starn

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Crisis." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . 16 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Crisis." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . (December 16, 2017).

"Crisis." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from


cri·sis / ˈkrīsis/ • n. (pl. -ses / -ˌsēz/ ) a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger: the current economic crisis. ∎  a time when a difficult or important decision must be made. ∎  the turning point of a disease when an important change takes place, indicating either recovery or death. ∎  the point in a play or story when a crucial conflict takes place, determining the outcome of the plot. ORIGIN: late Middle English (denoting the turning point of a disease): medical Latin, from Greek krisis ‘decision,’ from krinein ‘decide.’ The general sense ‘decisive point’ dates from the early 17th cent.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"crisis." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 16 Dec. 2017 <>.

"crisis." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . (December 16, 2017).

"crisis." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from


crisis (kry-sis) n. (pl. crises)
1. the turning point of a disease, after which the patient either improves or deteriorates. Since the advent of antibiotics, infections seldom reach the point of crisis.

2. the occurrence of sudden severe pain in certain diseases. See also Dietl's crisis.

3. a state of psychological or physiological disequilibrium in which normal coping strategies and mechanisms have been suspended. Intervention may be required.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"crisis." A Dictionary of Nursing. . 16 Dec. 2017 <>.

"crisis." A Dictionary of Nursing. . (December 16, 2017).

"crisis." A Dictionary of Nursing. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from


crisis turning-point of a disease XV; vital or decisive stage in events XVII. — L. — Gr. krísis decision, event, turning-point of a disease, f. krī́nein decide.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"crisis." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . 16 Dec. 2017 <>.

"crisis." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . (December 16, 2017).

"crisis." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from


crisisglacis, Onassis •abscess •anaphylaxis, axis, praxis, taxis •Chalcis • Jancis • synapsis • catharsis •Frances, Francis •thesis • Alexis • amanuensis •prolepsis, sepsis, syllepsis •basis, oasis, stasis •amniocentesis, anamnesis, ascesis, catechesis, exegesis, mimesis, prosthesis, psychokinesis, telekinesis •ellipsis, paralipsis •Lachesis •analysis, catalysis, dialysis, paralysis, psychoanalysis •electrolysis • nemesis •genesis, parthenogenesis, pathogenesis •diaeresis (US dieresis) • metathesis •parenthesis •photosynthesis, synthesis •hypothesis, prothesis •crisis, Isis •proboscis • synopsis •apotheosis, chlorosis, cirrhosis, diagnosis, halitosis, hypnosis, kenosis, meiosis, metempsychosis, misdiagnosis, mononucleosis, myxomatosis, necrosis, neurosis, osmosis, osteoporosis, prognosis, psittacosis, psychosis, sclerosis, symbiosis, thrombosis, toxoplasmosis, trichinosis, tuberculosis •archdiocese, diocese, elephantiasis, psoriasis •anabasis • apodosis •emphasis, underemphasis •anamorphosis, metamorphosis •periphrasis • entasis • protasis •hypostasis, iconostasis

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"crisis." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 16 Dec. 2017 <>.

"crisis." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . (December 16, 2017).

"crisis." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from